A Catholic gentlemen, RD Miksa, has responded to the questions and I appreciate his efforts in tackling these issues. Unlike some who just summarily dismiss them, he has made a good attempt to deal with the questions.
Below are his responses and my rebuttals.
Please remember that I said in my original post that I also had "answers" to each of these questions. I provided these answers to my students when I was a College instructor. However, as I also said, I was never fully satisfied with my answers. On further reflection, they seemed to be contrived and thus, while theoretically possible, I did not find them probable.
Good Day Sir,
Interesting questions, but ultimately not too difficult. Here are my answers with three caveats:
Caveat 1: I am a Catholic and approach the topic from this angle;
Fair enough but keep in mind that my blog is entitled, Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity, not Why I De-Converted from Roman Catholicism. My background and experience is from the evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant tradition. Thus, these questions are primarily directed at people in that same tradition. If I were going to write 10 Questions to Ask Your Priest, I would include an entirely different set of questions.
Caveat 2: Obviously my responses will only touch upon the surface of each issue as this is just a blog comment after all;
Caveat 3: For considerations of time and space, I will answer each question with a separate comment.
Understood. Blogs do not lend themselves to in-depth discussion of topics. Whole books have been written on most of these questions and I would encourage the serious student to read them.
1. Why is God called loving or merciful when, in the Old Testament's stories of the Israelite conquest, he specifically orders his chosen people to massacre their enemies, showing no mercy to men, women, even children and animals?
RD Miksa answers:
How is it possible to reconcile what seems to be the biblical injunction by God to kill many, even the most innocent of children, and God’s supposed love? How could this be love? How could this be benevolence? Truly, could a reconciliation of these two factors even be possible? Indeed it could, and through various means, arguments and tactics no less. Yet of these various means, it is only one that will be raised here. For one of the ways that have been put forth to reconcile the harsh passages concerning God’s command to kill the innocent and with the idea of God’s love is through the understanding and application of both the chance for eternal life for the innocents, as well as God’s knowledge of all possible worlds. First, let it be clear that one should not have great problems with the killing of the adults that these passages describe, for the obvious reason concerning moral culpability for which such adults are responsible.
I need to make several points here.
1. Man's moral understanding has greatly evolved since the Bronze Age. Today, in the USA at least, we take great efforts to avoid killing anyone who is not a military combatant. We recognize that every civilian in a population is not necessarily in agreement with their government or leaders in fighting the war and therefore not culpable.
2. At the time these genocidal commands were given by Israel's god, it was not an unusual thing. As a matter of fact, it was commonplace for tribal deities to give such commands. For example, see Divine war in the Old Testament and in the ancient Near East by Sa-Moon Kang.
Why should YHWH be any different than the other tribal deities? He shouldn't if the deities are all inventions of the cultures. However, if he is the one true God, holy and loving, then he should be different. To me it is much more probable to believe that the Israelites had simply invented a deity that was much like the other deities around them.
3. The OT says that the Canannites were put "under the ban" (Hebrew, cherem). Susan Niditch in her book, War in the Hebrew Bible sees two purposes in cherem. One is as a sacrifice to God (The Ban as God's portion) and second is as the judgment of God (The Ban as God's Justice). This second position is seen by virtually all who write on the subject as a main reason for the cherem (including RD Miksa). They argue that the Canaanites and the Amalekites were corrupt and thus deserving of the judgment of God.(I think its more likely that they just happened to be on the land that the Israelites wanted. Countries often demonize their enemies). However, her first reason is not often cited in the literature as one of the motivations behind cherem.
The Ban as God's Portion is the title of Chapter One of Niditch's book. On p. 29 she writes:
In a non-war context Lev. 27:28 states that anything a man devotes to God (cherem verb used) from among his possessions--human beings (i.e., slaves), animals or agricultural holdings--cannot be purchased or redeemed. 'Every devoted thing (cherem) is a holy of holies to God." In a similar vein, Lev. 27:21 juxtaposes 'holy to God' with cherem in reference to a person's pledge of land. That which is cherem in these contexts is not a destroyed item or person but a possession devoted and sacrificed, given up for the use of God or his priests (see also Ezek. 44:29). (p. 29).
Thus according to Niditch, in certain cases when the Israelites would go to war they would make a vow to YHWH to sacrifice all the booty to Him in exchange for His help in accomplishing a victory. She cites Num. 21:2-3 as an example.
She further cites Judges 11:30-31 as a parallel passage(p.33).
And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy (cherem) their cities. And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.
She argues that since human beings are the most valuable of all the booty, to offer them up to YHWH was an especially strong vow. The Israelites thought that by doing so, they would ensure YHWH's help in securing a victory.
RD Miksa continues:
Now, if God saves the innocent, which with the Holy Martyrs there is Catholic precedent for his doing, and with his absolute knowledge, God may know that in every possible world, the persons that are the infants in this one would have freely chosen salvation. Thus in this world, God kills them as infants, ensuring their eternal salvation, which they would have freely chosen anyway in every other possible world. Yet at the same time, God has chosen this course of action because it creates opportunity for other individuals who might not have been eternally saved without it, to be eternally saved. For example, perhaps God knows that only by seeing her baby killed for the horrid sins that she made and promoted, the baby’s mother would repent. In having the baby killed, God thus saves two people rather than one. In terms of eternal importance, therefore, more individuals are saved via the death of infants than not, but all persons that would have been saved if they had not died—meaning the infants—are saved anyway. And so love is reconciled with the command to kill innocents.
I find this answer to be "ad-hoc." There is no basis in the biblical texts that deal with the genocides to come to this conclusion. While theoretically it could be correct, it does not seem probable.
Furthermore, it creates the problem that RD Miksa and Michael Mock argued over in the comment section of the post. Any religion that holds its actually a good thing to kill infants and toddlers is in my mind morally bankrupt and not worthy of my adherence.
2. Does it make sense to claim, as the Bible does, that wrongdoing can be forgiven by magically transferring the blame from a guilty person to an innocent one, then punishing the innocent person?
My Catholic friend responds:
Absolutely. Not only does this make sense in the Bible, it easily makes sense today in a manner that is analogous to the Biblical claim. For example, Bill is the loving son of his loving father Jack. Bill is also good friends with Ted, who also works for Bill’s father Jack. Now, Ted borrows some money from Jack, but is unable to pay when payment is due. Jack, being angry with this, plans to throw Ted in jail. Bill, however, intervenes with his father Jack and tells his father that he will pay for Ted’s debt with his own money. Jack, loving his son as he does, agrees to this because of the love that he has for his son Bill. And thus Ted’s debt is paid through no merit of his own and solely by Bill’s grace. And lest you think that this analogy is too abstract, I actually did this with one of my friends that broke something in the house but could not afford to pay, so I told my parents that I would pay for him and they accepted. He was guilty and I innocent, but I paid for his mistake.
I have dealt with your answer in detail previously. The main point is that while monetary debts can be transferred, moral debts cannot. To make this clear, lets change your illustration to say that Ted kills Jack. Ted is taken to court and confesses that he killed Jack and that he is very sorry he did so. The judge sentences Ted to death. Bill, however, steps in and tells the judge that he knows Ted deserves to die for his crime but begs the judge to punish him instead. Would any judge allow Bill to die in the place of his Ted? Of course not, its counterintuitive to our innate sense of justice (which sense of justice is from God, according to Christians).
3. Why does the Bible routinely depict God as manifesting himself in dramatic, unmistakable ways and performing obvious miracles even before the eyes of nonbelievers, when no such thing happens in the world today?
RD Miksa replies:
Three points reference this question:
1. There was no such thing as today’s naturalistic-unbelieving-atheist in Biblical times. Everyone believed in some type of deity or deities, so the only question was which deity, not whether said deity existed or not. This means that God’s glorious manifestations in biblical times would not have overridden an unbeliever’s unbelief, only re-directed the belief of an already deity-believing individual to the Biblical God through the miraculous. Thus the free will and free desire to reject God through the denial of his existence, as is the case with in modern times with atheists, is not overridden through the miraculous today.
I think your answer is misguided. If a miracle could convince a believer in a false deity to switch allegiance, I see no reason why a miracle could not convince an atheist to believe, assuming it was a verifiable miracle. It could just be that people in the ancient times, because of their superstitions, were more gullible in accepting a purported miracle than we are today.
2. There is an assumption in your question that these things do not happen, but that only means that they do not happen where you are or where you have been. In contrast to this claim, I have but to present many claims of miracles that are occurring across the world in different areas to show that they do happen in different regions (see below).
3. Finally, miracles still do occur. The miracles of Lourdes and Fatima (70,000 people in a 20 kilometre radius, including sceptics, saw the sun dance) spring to mind, although this is only a few claims that could be brought forth. These should be thoroughly investigated, before being dismissed a priori.
Evangelicals for the most part do not find the miracles of Lourdes credible. Pentecostalists also claim miracles today which most evangelicals and probably you, yourself, do not accept. People tend to accept miracles as legitimate if they occur within their particular religious tradition. They tend to reject them if they do not.
4. Why do vast numbers of Christians still believe in the imminent end of the world when the New Testament states clearly that the apocalypse was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago, during the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries?
First, the claim that that was supposed to be the time of the apocalypse has been disputed. Second, and more importantly, as a Catholic, I see the New Testament through the interpretation of the Magisterium and thus, this is not a problem and it was not claimed by Catholicism.
The reason that the claim has been disputed is because the apocalypse did not take place and Christians have had to scramble to come up with an answer to the problem. I think the Preterist solution is an example of a concocted solution. I find Preterism lacking because the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE does not fulfill all the things associated with the biblical prophecies. For example, Jesus did not return visibly and resurrect his followers. Paul expected the return of Jesus before he died (see 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:15-16).
5. Why do Christians believe in the soul when neurology has found clear evidence that the sense of identity and personality can be altered by physical changes to the brain?
RD Miksa writes:
Interesting to make such a bold and unsubstantiated claim that somehow physical changes to the brain disprove the soul as dualist have long ago put this objection to bed. But again, through a simple analogy: if I crack the screen of a TV or take out some of its internal components or unplug the power, this will change the image on the TV in some way and distort the signal being sent, but this does not mean that the signal is coming from inside the TV itself. The signal is external, but the presentation of the signal is affected by the physical changes to the TV.
This is probably one of the questions I would have omitted if I were constructing the list. I am not sure how much weight, if any, this argument holds.
I could not find a response from RD Miksa on questions 6 and 7.
8. Why didn't God create human beings such that they freely desire to do good, thus removing the need to create a Hell at all? (If you believe this is impossible, isn't this the state that will exist in Heaven?)
RD Miksa says:
It is impossible. In heaven, free will is removed and only God’s will is done. Thus heaven is a state of no suffering but subsequently no freedom. Hell, by contrast, is a state of full freedom but also the suffering that must accompany it.
If your god is omnipotent, then I don't see why its impossible. If, as Molinism holds, there are some conditions in which a person will believe and others in which he won't, then it seems to me that an omnipotent and omnisicient being could figure out a way to create a world in which all freely believe.
9.Is it fair or rational for God to hide himself so that he can only be known by faith, then insist that every single human being find him by picking the right one out of thousands of conflicting and incompatible religions?
RD Miksa responds:
The Catholic position is that God’s bare and basic existence can be known by reason alone—which is how the pagan Greek philosophers determined His existence—but that the Triune God’s specific characteristics require revelation. However, to get to the particular point, as the Catholic Church teaches that even those of other faiths—if they are in invincible ignorance and strive for the moral good through the natural law written on all hearts—can be granted salvation.
This may be true of Roman Catholicism but its not of evangelicalism. At least not the conservative element of which I am most familiar.
The Christian, furthermore, can point out that God has not hidden Himself, but came into history through Jesus Christ and is thus historically knowable to man. All this makes God current method of presentation completely fair and fully rational, even allowing those that want nothing to do with Him and actively disbelieve in Him the freedom to do so, which would not be so if He fully presented Himself.
Even if I were to accept that Jesus is the revelation of God, there is still the problem of all those who have lived and died without even hearing the name of Jesus. Paul makes it clear that one cannot call upon the name of Jesus if they have not heard of him. Thus the need for evangelism and missions (Rom. 10:13-14).
10. If you had the power to help all people who are suffering or in need, at no cost or effort to yourself, would you do it? If so, why hasn't God done this already?
RD Miksa answers:
No. Just the other day, I took away a toy from my 15 month old daughter who screamed and cried for ten minutes because of it. She was clearly suffering because of my action, but she also needed to learn discipline as well as the fact that she does not always get what she wants. Suffering is not nearly the biggest problem in this world, nor is my or other’s personal happiness.
I think your analogy is misguided. Certainly there are times when pain is necessary in order to accomplish a greater good. Surgery comes to mind. However, that is far different than what I am referring to. For example, the suffering taking place in Haiti. One could argue that ultimately it could make Haiti a better place but how does that help the individuals who were buried alive and wound up dying a horrific death?
So, as I said at the beginning of the post, there are Christian answers to the questions posed, but the issue is are these answers probable or contrived?